For a while after the birth of my first son, I had what I imagine were shell-shock-like flashbacks. I thought I’d never want to remember the experience, that I would always want to chase away the memories. The intensity of the memories has subsided somewhat, though, and I figured I should write it out before I forget it any further.
A warning: I don’t get all that graphic in this, but it is nevertheless a topic that does not get discussed frequently in our culture and therefore may make you uncomfortable. My posting this does not make me responsible for any negative response you may have to it; read at your own risk.
When I left my house midday on Thursday, February 17 to go to the clinic, the bay was at such low tide I could smell it.
At the clinic, it was confirmed that I had in fact been leaking amniotic fluid for a few days, and had already lost a dangerous amount. Mary, my midwife said, “Ok, we need to get this kid out of you, now,” to which I replied, “But I’m not ready, he’s not due for another ten days and I was expecting him later anyway, and anyway the shower’s on Sunday.” She said, “Tough shit” (well not really), and called the hospital and told them to expect me in a couple of hours.
I was in the hospital for several hours before it was finally decided that yes, Pitocin was necessary. Turns out I’d been contracting on my own, possibly for days without really knowing it (“Did you feel that, about five minutes ago?” “No.” “Do you feel that now?” “Oh, what, that tingling in my back? Yeah.”). But it wasn’t happening quickly enough, what with the water-bag rupture and all. I’d told them I wasn’t crazy about the Pitocin idea and was told again “Tough shit” (well not really), that it was the only safe option at this point. They’d start me out with a low dose. I said fine; whatever.
Bianca was there and we hung out and chatted and laughed and ate until the contractions gradually made me bad company. Then we still hung out but laughed considerably less, and our conversation kept getting annoyingly interrupted by increasingly intense and frequent contractions. By the time the hardcore back labor set in, she and a nurse from the clinic, Dawn, were both serving as my doulas and let me tell you, I absolutely would not have made it through without them.
Ah yes, the back labor. My active labor stage was entirely punctuated by debilitating lower back pain, as with every contraction the baby knocked against my sacrum in a slightly botched attempt at going in the right direction. Eventually I began to think that my sacrum was literally going to break. (It didn’t; but my tailbone was bruised.) More eventually, I thought that the back pain was prohibiting the baby’s descent–everyone kept saying, “Breathe into the contractions, don’t fight them,” but the back pain wanted to be fought, to be held together; it all seemed very contradictory.
When Heidi–the OB who works with Mary–checked my cervix, I’d dilated eight centimeters, which was quite a relief; the back labor hadn’t interfered with progress after all.
The worse it got, the more vocal I got. Afterward, I remember thinking things and was informed I had said them aloud, often multiple times. I was in such a state I was just thinking out loud. Some examples: “God is a man, I know that now” and “Don’t forget: never do this again; don’t forget,” my mantra against the forgetting about labor pain we all hear happens.
Eventually I broke down. “I can’t do this,” I cried repeatedly, curled up into a ball. “But you’re doing it!” Bianca said, encouragingly. “But I don’t *want* to.” I was adamant. “Make it stop.” I was incredibly exhausted–laboring through the night after a particularly painful and fatiguing week.
The nurse, Sheree, suggested some sort of saline drip injection, directly into my back, which would help alleviate the back labor (which was, by this point, pretty much the only thing I could feel). She said, it burns going in. Oh, and once in a while, it doesn’t work. “What kind of decision is that?!” I asked jokingly. I said I’d think about it.
I didn’t think long. Another contraction came and I said, “Inject me!”
It was a bad idea. To say it burned going in is an understatement. I screamed more than I ever had in my life up to that point (soon afterwards, I would scream even more). I don’t even think it worked in the end. It may have taken the edge off, but there comes a time when these things are grossly relative. I think it was too late to do much for my pain at that point anyway. (After the delivery and things had settled down, Sheree asked me, “Do you hate me?” I laughed and said no.)
Because of the Pitocin, the transition was quite fast and quite painful. More screams and begging it to stop, just stop, just let me sleep, just for a minute. No dice. “The only way this is going to end is to have the baby,” I was told. Oh, fine.
Suddenly there were a shitload of people in the room and the surgical lights were turned on full blast. I was only slightly aware of this, and if I’d had the wherewithal, I’d’ve kicked them all out–as many as possible, anyway. They all hovered over me.
Then came the pushing. I thought it was very unfair that I was now forced to participate in causing my pain. I won’t horrify/disgust you with metaphors of what that–or any of this–felt like. I screamed again to make it stop and was given a low-dose Stadol injection, but again–at that point who knew if it did anything? So close to the end, I think it just made me groggier after delivery.
By then I was more or less continuously screaming. Someone tried to be encouraging and say to me something like, just imagine when this is all over, you’ll have a baby, to which I replied, “I don’t care about the baby.”
A nurse leaned over to my mom. “Did she just say she didn’t care about the baby?” “Yeah.” “She didn’t mean that, right?” “Uh, yeah she did.”
It’s not that I felt any ill will towards the baby. I just couldn’t think outside of what I was currently experiencing.
Also to speed up things, they broke my water bag. That was helpful in that it made things move along even quicker. It was also a very bizarre and fascinating sensation.
After several pushes Heidi said, “Your baby’s heart-rate is falling. You have two more pushes and then I’ll have to get the vacuum and suck him out of you.” She didn’t say it quite like that but but now things were getting a little hazy; that was the gist of it.
This was upsetting. I tried my hardest but no luck. On that second of two pushes I could have sworn he came out; turns out that was just the tearing happening.
Ah shit, the vacuum. As Heidi turned to get it, though, another contraction came on stronger than ever and I pushed as hard as I could because I didn’t want the vacuum and alas, out he came: at 5:42 a.m. on Friday, February 18. The day of the full moon.
Then all the people hovering over me swooped in, wiped him off, and he was put on my chest. He was heavy on me and I was almost too weak to hold him. He didn’t cry right away–but then he did. I covered his eyes because I thought the horrible bright lights were probably upsetting to him; they were to me, anyway. Then he seemed to struggle breathing and they took him away to check that out. (He ended up being fine; in fact stopping breathing while crying is something he continues to do sometimes which is kind of scary.)
After I got out the placenta they spent a really long time stitching me up. During that time I watched my mom and Dawn and Bianca hang out with my baby after they’d weighed him and everything. We’d made bets on what he’d weigh: the previous week, Mary said, “If he was born today he’d be six and a half pounds; I think he’ll be in the seven-pound range.” That was about three weeks before his due date. So I said, I bet he’s somewhere high-six. Dawn and/or Bianca and/or my mom (again, it’s blurry) said over seven. Heidi agreed with me and said high-six. We were all quite wrong: he was eight pounds, six ounces. Way high percentile for weight, as well as for length and head circumference, particularly considering his early arrival–which was a blessing after all in the size department. Yikes.
Eventually I was able to hold him again, and nurse him, but I was still so weak, and it’s all even more a blur. I was brought to a postpartum room, and he was brought to the nursery for more tests and whatever else they do there, and I tried more or less unsuccessfully to sleep until he was returned to me.
We still had the baby shower on Sunday. The only real difference was, the baby attended.
(I haven’t covered every aspect of my birth story in here. If you’d like to know about something that isn’t here, feel free to ask, either as a comment or in a message. Be as personal as you’d like. I think it’s important to share this information; I certainly wish I’d been told more birth stories as well as pregnancy stories, postpartum stories, nursing stories, etc. etc. etc. And please continue to share your own stories!)